From the PEN USA Award-winning author of A Country Called Home, a richly imagined new novel about a young woman who leaves the dusty farmland of 1960s Oklahoma to follow her husband to the oil fields of Saudi Arabia and finds a world of wealth, glamour, American privilege, and corruption.
Raised by her grandfather, a strict Methodist minister, in a two-room shack, Gin Mitchell secures a better, happier life for herself when she marries hometown hero Mason McPhee. But even her wildest dreams can't prepare her for the world she and Mason step into when he takes a job at the Arabian American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. In the desert city of Abqaiq, Gin and Mason are given a house with marble floors, a houseboy to cook their meals, a gardener to tend the sandy patch out back - Gin suddenly has the life she's only read about. But when a young Bedouin woman is found dead in the bay, Gin's world closes in around her and the one person she trusts is nowhere to be found. Set in a gorgeously etched desert landscape, In the Kingdom of Men is an enthralling novel of greed and deceit, of Americans out of their depth in Saudi Arabia, and of a marriage moving inexorably toward ruin.
Kim Barnes is a genius. I got so swept away in the company of her ruthless, ruthful, grasping men that for the space of 314 pages I was Virginia Mae (Gin) McPhee. Thanks to Barnes's masterly personification, Gin breaks the bonds of the mere mundane fictional heroine - cuts the marionette strings as it were - and blooms into an irrepressible everywoman. (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).
More Magazine In the Kingdom of Men is a gripping thriller that plays out amid the oil-inflected relationships of the Americans and the Saudis (further complicated by the Bedouins and the Indians who serve them both) in the moody landscape of the Arabian frontier.
Barnes writes beautifully, but she isn't able to cobble together a coherent story. The novel's first third gets off to a strong start, but the cinematic descriptions of the desert don't make up for the weak characterization and unbelievable adventure plot.
Barnes writes poetically and intensely about personal conflict and subtly informs the reader about continuing Western misunderstandings of Middle Eastern culture.
Starred Review. Barnes deftly teases humanity out of corruption and hypocrisy, and her language is finely wrought and her pacing masterful - Gin's story develops languidly, then draws taut as the stakes rise.
Starred Review. Barnes animates a magnetizing cast of cosmopolitan characters, lingers over descriptions of food and clothing, dramatizes cultural contrasts and sexual tension, and brings this intense and compassionate novel of corporate imperialism, prejudice, corruption, and yearning to such gorgeously vivid, suspenseful life that the story's darkness is perfectly balanced by the keen wit and blazing pleasure of its telling.
Elizabeth Berg, author of Once Upon a Time, There Was You
This is a mesmerizing novel, set in the American heartland and Saudi Arabia - two locations that on the face of it couldn't be more different. But from the point of view of a woman not allowed to be herself, the two places have startling similarities. We read, in part, to be taken elsewhere. In the Kingdom of Men succeeds mightily in this. We also read because we enjoy good writing. You'll find that in abundance here.
Jess Walter, author of The Financial Lives of the Poets
A great windswept adventure full of tension and suspense, In the Kingdom of Men is moving in the truest sense, sweeping the reader along with its gorgeous prose, a rich setting, and most of all, Gin McPhee, one of those rare characters who sits up on page one, grabs you and pulls you into her world.
Ellen Sussman, author of French Lessons
This novel has it all: an intriguing story that thunders to a thrilling climax, characters who grab our hearts, gorgeous prose and a setting that stuns the reader at every turn. Arabia!
Anthony Doerr, author of Memory Wall and About Grace
If you want to understand, right in your gut, the history of the American relationship with Saudi Arabia; if you want a magical, layered story of west-inside-east, culture layered over culture, and the slow - still ongoing - revolution of gender and race oppression, In the Kingdom of Men is your book. It's Madmen meets The Sheltering Sky, a Revolutionary Road for the oil-addicted. It's also an utter pleasure to read.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Diane S. In the Kingdom of Men Lawrence of Arabia, Arabian nights, I remember reading so much history centering on Arabia that when I saw this book I knew it was one I had to read.
In the 1960's Gin McPhee finds herself, with her husband in Saudi Arabia when her husband finds... Read More
How the Introduction of Oil and Capitalism Affected Saudi Arabian Culture
In In the Kingdom of Men, Gin McPhee finds herself plopped inside an ARAMCO (Arabian American Oil Company) compound in the 1960s, an oasis that is neither wholly American nor Arabic but is somehow an incongruous mashup within a country still grappling with the culture shock wrought by 20th century capitalism. But what did that culture shock look like in real life?
Eons of social and economic tradition had established a tight symbiotic relationship between Arab desert nomads (Bedouin) and the stationary farmers and villagers; nomads tended to the grazing livestock while the stationary families produced consumable goods, from tent poles to dates. Very few people were wage earners. It had always been a mostly self-contained, life-sustaining economy that valued family over all else....
That rare coming-of-age story able to blend the dark with the uplifting, Irma Voth follows a young Mennonite woman, vulnerable yet wise beyond her years, who carries a terrible family secret with her on a remarkable journey to survival and redemption.
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